Thinking Out Loud

February 18, 2010

Christian Radio in Crisis

The names and faces are familiar as are the names of the various radio programs:

  • Insight for Living – Chuck Swindoll
  • Turning Point – David Jeremiah
  • Thru The Bible – J. Vernon McGee
  • Back to the Bible – Woodrow Kroll
  • In Touch – Charles Stanley
  • Grace to You – John MacArthur
  • Love Worth Finding – Adrian Rogers
  • Haven Today – Charles Morris
  • Let My People Think – Ravi Zacharias
  • Bible Answer Man – Hank Hanegraaff

Notice anything?   No, I mean besides the fact they’re all male.   (And all American.)  This is in every sense of the word, an “old boys network.”   Chip Ingram may still look young in his publicity shots, and James MacDonald may open with a cool David Crowder theme song, but exceptions aside, Christian radio is playing host to an older generation of radio preachers, which isn’t the generation they need to attract if the medium is to survive.

You may wish to suggest that maybe it’s just time for the medium to die off.   After all, look what YouTube has done to the hours people formerly spent watching broadcast, cable and satellite television.   The 42″ screen has unexpectedly lost ground to the 17″ monitor.    The plasma screen may be high definition, but the next generation would rather program their own visual channels, even if the images are jumpy, grainy or pixelating.

But is there an opportunity being lost?   Last time I checked, cars still come with FM radios.   It’s still the medium of choice if you’re caught in a traffic tie-up looking for an alternative route.   It’s still what you’ve got if the iPod battery fails or one of the earbuds isn’t working.   And it’s weather forecasts are still reasonably up-to-date and free-of-charge.

No, the problem isn’t with radio itself.  The problem is that a new generation of pastors doesn’t want to fuss with purchasing airtime and building that kind of media ministry.   Keeping the multi-site satellite link working weekly is enough technical challenge for one week.   The demographic they see on Sunday morning grew up with time shifting anyway.   They can PVR their favorite program and view it anytime; so they don’t need some guy on radio telling them, “Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow at 6:00 PM…”

I’ve never understood why an audio cassette version of the VCR never happened, but then I’ve never understood why for years, push-buttons allowed people to find AM and FM stations with pinpoint accuracy in their cars, while at home they had to slide a “dial” back and forth.   Even today, some digital tuners still offer frustrations unknown to driving with preset stations.

Furthermore, today’s younger pastors don’t want to start a branch of their ministry that might start bleeding red ink, which might lead to the type of on-air begging that has tainted the Christian radio medium.

No, radio just isn’t at the forefront for a new generation of Christians.   They know more about Francis Chan than Francis Shaeffer; they prefer Andy Stanley to Charles Stanley.    They download Rob Bell, discuss Greg Boyd’s take on the Gospel of Luke,  and work out to the latest Craig Groeschel sermon from Lifechurch.   They discuss the latest interview available at Drew Marshall’s website, debate the latest pronouncement from Mark Driscoll, and tell their friends about Pete Wilson’s sermon download page.

None of this is lost on Christian radio ministries.   Weekly podcasts from Focus on the Family, Greg Laurie and even John Piper rank among the top ten each week.   They’ve taken their content and propelled it forward into the new media.

Which brings us to the point of all this.   The proprietors of the new media need to make their content backward compatible.   All of this great, next-generation communication of the Good News, and so very little of it being heard over traditional broadcast frequencies.

Some visionary person needs to create a radio outlet for the vast number of sermon podcasts being created each week by younger leaders in a new era of multi-site, emerging, missional, or just plain newly-planted churches.   It’s time the computer-less, broadband-less, or those simply out-of-the-loop got to hear what some of us are already enjoying.    And personally, I think an older generation of Christ-followers would appreciate having some fresh new voices at the table.

The content is already recorded.    The radio stations already exist.   Let’s introduce the two to each other.   Before it’s too late for Christian radio.

Related post on this blog — A fictional story about Pastor Boone, who gets offered some free radio time and instead of just putting his church service on the radio…

Related post on this blog — My proposal to make Worship Network’s Sunday Setlists into a weekly Christian radio show.

Related post on this blog — This  links to a USAToday Religion story on how Christian radio is dealing with the new economic realities, attracting younger listeners, and keeping donations coming.

Related post at The Church Report — James Dobson and son Ryan Dobson are teaming up to launch a new radio ministry.

Appendix — Arbitron Podcast demographics worth knowing — and these go back to 2006! –





May 18, 2009

Christianity in Crisis: Confronting Word of Faith Theology

Christianity in Crisis

In a new edition, Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century, the host of the Bible Answer Man broadcasts and head of Christian Research Institute makes it really clear it’s the excesses of “Word of Faith” theology under discussion, not issues with the wider Pentecostal, Assemblies of God or Charismatic doctrine.   As such, Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff (Thomas Nelson) is probably the best tool we have to confront those who espouse the “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” fringe of Christianity.   The doctrinal flights of fancy are simply too numerous to list here; and the Christian blogosphere is thankfully home to people whose beliefs — for the most part — are a litte more stable.

But what a visible “fringe” this is, accounting for a huge percentage of the airtime purchased for religious broadcasting, not to mention entire networks.   Why is that?   That question is beyond the scope of this work, though I wish Hanegraaff had waded into the question, “What is it that draws these evangelists to one particular medium — television — while remaining almost entirely absent from radio and having only a minimal presence on the internet?”   It does make you appreciative of the doctrinal balance to be had on Christian radio.

Word of Faith theology is the entire focus of this work.   In a world where critics obsess over the current emerging/Emergent church; where a new Dan Brown movie reminds us of the gullibility of the public when it comes to Biblical truth; where Jesus Seminar practitioners such as Marcus Borg and Shelby Spong undermine the validity of the gospel accounts; and where atheists are become more militant in their attacks on faith; in all of these situations, a book called Christianity in Crisis could address a variety of battlegrounds for Christ-followers.    It doesn’t.   But its single focus is sufficient to fill all its 400-plus pages and Hanegraaff is wonderfully restrained in expressing his outrage over what gets broadcast, 24-hours a day, over so called “Chrsitian” networks.

If the new edition of Christianity in Crisis were a research paper, it would, at first, score an A- for actual research and a D- for organization of material.   Since this book is a little longer than ones I normally review, I want to take a bit more time to qualify both ratings, beginning with the D-.

Despite a penchant for alliterative and acrostic outlines — some of which are borrowed from the author’s other writings — which appear to show superior organization,   much of the material in the book is repeated, over and over and over again, in different sections.   Transcriptions of television broadcasts are used as a kind of proof-text for multiple points, instead of beginning from the transcripts themselves and then fleshing out their various implications.   Honestly, I’m not sure where the greater efficiency is to be found, but the latter would eliminate the possibility of reading a quotation for the fourth or fifth time, as is presently the case.   The main points of the book might be said in half as many pages, though some of the finer nuances of each TV personality’s beliefs would be lost.   This should not distract from the importance of each individual argument, however.

But I have to qualify the A-, also.   Because the author heads a group called Christian Research Institute, there are immeasurable hours of compiling transcripts of religious television represented here.   Nobody does it better.   But wait a minute, look again at the second half of the updated edition’s title:  “…The 21st Century.” Despite this reference to the 21st Century, there’s very little internet citation here; there is little commentary from other critics — which abound online — and many of the citations and statistics are from the period in the late 1980’s when the original edition was written.

Contrast that with the other updated title I’m reading now, The King James Only Controversy by James White (Bethany House) where you see dozens and dozens of internet references per chapter as White gives fresh information and renders his re-make of a 1994 title appear to be “hot off the press.”

White’s book also highlights a flaw in Hanegraaff’s update inasmuch as entire sections of the original edition are imported wholesale; so a section on recommended Bible translations and study Bibles refers to The Living Bible, not the New Living Translation and there’s no mention at all of the biggest thing in Bibles to happen in the last decade, The English Standard Version. Readers counting on the book for advice would be hard pressed to even find a copy of The Living Bible, though Tyndale keeps a single edition in print.

But you might say, “Internet links are fleeting and the groups under discussion might modify or remove offending pages if Christianity in Crisis were to cite them.”

True.   But as it stands, the seventy-odd pages of bibliography and footnotes contain references to transcripts to Christian television broadcasts that absolutely nobody has access to, unless they also are recording every single thing that airs on TBN and other networks.    Also, without more internet citations, the book has very little relevance to next generation or postmodern readers, who expect the web to form part of modern scholarship.

hank hanegraaffStill, one doesn’t wish to overdo the criticism because we do owe a great debt to both Hanegraaff and his organization for all that they are doing to keep TV preachers accountable.   This book makes its point and makes it well:   The theology being broadcast daily on Christian television is, for the most part, nuttier than a fruitcake.

Based on what I read here, I wouldn’t let Benny Hinn or Joyce Meyer, or Myles Munroe or Creflo Dollar or Joel Osteen walk my dog, let alone watch my kids for five minutes.   It’s not that they aren’t “rightly dividing the Word of God,” but given financial and marital evidence, it’s more like they can’t properly handle anything.    And that includes the trust and responsibility that they’re given when they invade the homes of the unsuspecting on a daily or weekly basis.   Thankfully, Hanegraaff resists the temptation to do any more than allude to character issues, keeping his focus squarely on the contrast between errant doctrine and Biblical truth.

So if there’s someone in your sphere of influence caught up in the world of Paul Crouch, Rod Parsley, Juanita Bynum, Paula White, John Hagee, or any of the other aforementioned scripture twisters;  ignore all of the above critical comments and buy the book.   Read it all, and then loan it out to people who need to see the contrast between Christian television and orthodox Christianity.

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